Why I live in Clerkenwell: architect Amin Taha’s guide on his bustling area that’s a magnet for designers
I live in a four-bedroom eco flat, designed and built by our practice GROUPWORK. It uses stone instead of steel, timber instead of aluminium and plasterboard partitions. It drives down the embodied CO2 by 92 per cent less than a steel structure and internally to negative CO2.
I feel so fortunate to live in the area around St James Church; far enough away from Clerkenwell and Farringdon’s main roads not to feel them but close enough for their buses and trains. There is a quiet park for kids and dogs. We have Exmouth Market, Sadler’s wells and busy Angel to the north and Smithfield Market, St.Paul’s and Tate Modern to the south.
I first moved here in 1996, then I moved away and returned in 2005. For decades, this has been a hub for architects and related industries; from engineers to furniture and material suppliers. Plus, there is the annual Clerkenwell Design Week, reinforcing the connections with these industries to an international audience.
Eating and drinking
The top of Farringdon Road and Exmouth Market keeps adding a variety of restaurants. If you have a special event or client to entertain, head to The Quality Chop House or Moro. Both are only lightly formal with unique menus.
A favourite of mine is likely Morito. Being able to just drop in and leave staff to choose dishes for you and guests is the best. Look out for the tiny cafe in the park opposite which serves a smooth macchiato and cappuccino.
The Three Kings Pub used to be run by Deke, his sister and father. It was the pub I expected to be served a last pint in before quietly keeling over in my favourite corner with a smile on my face. However, a Midland Pub conglomerate bought it and stripped several generations of history away, replacing it with the “Clerkenwell look”. There is a library full of dissertations on authenticity just in that.
Where I work out
In a rush I failed to warm up before exercise and have put my back out for a few months. That is my excuse for being gym shy now. Otherwise, I go to a gym on Clerkenwell Road. If not, then at home.
For a culture fix
Sadler’s Wells is a few minutes walk away. Upper Street has four theatres; the Almeida, King’s Head Theatre, Little Angel and the Old Red Lion.
In Clerkenwell we are close to so many cultural points. Galleries and theatres on the South Bank are a 20-minute walk away whilst a 10 or 15-minute bus or tube will take us to the West End or museums of Kensington.
To commune with nature
We built a roof garden on our block with trees, small hills, a variety of lower level plants and some two-metre tall grasses. In summer and autumn there is dense foliage and flowers everywhere. With the church spire just visible and two beehives giving us 10 kilograms of honey each, you can imagine you are in the country.
The Italian grocer and deli on Farringdon Road retired, then his son sold the building. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have opened next door to one another. I think there are actually three Sainsbury’s within five or 10 minutes walk of one another.
With a Francophile partner we are in France often enough to see that, despite its changes, bakers, grocers and butchers maintain and cling on to their craft. They open to serve the morning baguette made with wheat, yeast, water and a little salt instead of the Chorleywood bread process which has more than 50 ingredients.
I walk. During the week I only leave the immediate area once or twice to teach at the RCA. Otherwise, with most clients and consultants still habitually Zooming their meetings, I am trapped in a pleasant, lazy cycle from home to work.
Our corner, on Clerkenwell Close, of course.
Something you only see in Clerkenwell
Behind us we have the Marx Memorial Library which began as a Welsh boys school, before being turned into a printing press for William Morris. Amongst his other work he asked Marx to contribute to his Twentieth Century Press and this is where Lenin published his Russian language paper.
On the annual first May bank holiday it hosts a congenial mini carnival. This year, amongst the music and speeches, there was support for NHS staff and better treatment of refugees.
What’s the catch?
Whenever our practice GROUPWORK masterplans new housing we aim to broaden the range of homes by including flats above small corner shops and pulling pavements well back for secure, slightly elevated front porches for the elderly to sit in and talk to neighbours.
This tends to increase the density and exceed home numbers sufficiently for clients to also see the benefit in releasing land to enlarge a central landscaped area from green to park. That is a long, roundabout way of saying we miss having something of the scale of Hyde or Victoria Park within walking distance.
In three words
Erasure and resurrection.
Amin Taha will be offering a free tour of 15 Clerkenwell Close to registered visitors of Clerkenwell Design Week on May 24 at 5PM.
Clerkenwell has several nearby primary schools rated outstanding or good by Ofsted, including Hugh Myddelton Primary School and Moreland Primary School.
For secondary education, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School is deemed outstanding while St Mary Magdalene Academy is rated good.
What it costs
Buying in Clerkenwell
Average flat price: £845,460
Average property price: £978,686
Renting in Clerkenwell
Average rent, pcm: £2,761
Source: Hamptons & Land Registry